So many things have changed during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic that you could be forgiven for not keeping track. But arguably one of the most obvious areas of change has been healthcare. Pre-existing reservoirs of distrust in the healthcare system, long hidden beneath a thin crust of complacency, have broken through threatening the success of immunisation programmes. Even in some of the most advanced countries in the world, those who have sought care at facilities over-run with COVID-19 patients, have found the experience chastening, and in some cases, hugely troubling.
Against this backdrop, the pharma industry has also seen a monumental shift, as companies like AstraZeneca and Moderna which have spent the past decades in comfortable anonymity, have become household names. And how has the industry adapted to this change?
Well, it hasn’t. At least not visibly and not yet.
It looks pretty much like business as usual, particularly since the first wave of relief at the arrival of vaccines to battle the pandemic has now given way to the traditional scepticism around profit-mongering.
It will be a huge opportunity missed if the industry does not take advantage of this pivotal moment and grasp the chance to build trust with its publics. Granted there are some legal and regulatory hurdles that complicate the situation but again, there are lessons to be learned from the last two years here as well.
The latest edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer (released earlier this year) showed record low levels of trust in sources of information. The same research also showed that increasing media and information literacy, as well as science literacy, has risen to the fore in terms of people’s personal priorities. Business is also the only institution of the four studied (alongside Government, Media, and NGOs) which is trusted. Finally, scientists are the most trusted group, more trusted than government or religious leaders, journalists CEOs and people in your local community.
Take all these findings together and you might hypothesise that there is a gap here that pharma could step into. A space where scientists within the business sector could be mobilised to raise levels of science and information literacy.
Regulations, of course, stand between pharma and the public as, indeed, might suspicion around pharma’s motives when it comes to their own products. But perhaps the time is now ripe for a joint industry approach to upskilling the general population when it comes to their knowledge of science, in order to combat the torrent of disinformation swirling around today’s media?
Because if not now, when there is so much at stake, when?